Introducing Calendar Tales

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I look at a innumberable host of calendars and shared calendars what seems to me to be at least 326 times a day. Its on my computer and its on my phone and its on a load of other people's computers and phones. Its there so often, dripping itself into all of our internet befuddled lives that we don't even think of it as what it is or how we use it.

We express ourselves through the pictures we post, the emails we write, the oh so well placed group chat emojis that we know are an amazing dig to that guy Steve. Most of all though we express ourselves in ways we don't even really consider, and one of those is through shared productivity software, like calendars and lists that we know someone else is either looking at or supposed to look at.

Calendar Tales is a effort to explore writing a story through just that, probing through the lives of Lewis and Steph through the calendars they share and don't.

Check out the project here:
https://halfman-ltd.github.io/calendartales/

Should Have Gone to Culo

This is a short story. It will take you roughy 3-4 minutes to read so don't be scared. Its fiction. Its about AI, and robots, and about using stories as a tool to think through how design lives in our lives.


"I can't believe you brought me here,” she said a bit too loudly, “On our anniversary. Really?” She was going to close with “the nerve” but didn’t say anything more. She scraped her fork in quiet, whining, concentric circles on the plate next to what was some sort of extruded pasta looking side dish. It was what everyone was posting about. She couldn’t remember the name of it.

“What? I thought you wanted to come here?” he said barely opening his mouth. His eyes darted around the restaurant.

“This restaurant’s robots are so shit. It’s our anniversary Jack,” she said. Our fucking anniversary, she mouthed silently after. “I can’t believe you. Look at them. Would you just look at them….” Her voice trailed off as she craned her neck following one of the robots as it breezed past her left side. The robot decelerated its way towards the kitchen behind her, from which only hints or wisps of food smells emanated. You had to search for them. The restaurant felt a scared sort of hospital clean.

“Honey, look…”

“And the menu intelligence? Are you kidding? You call this predictive or assumptive or whatever the hell they say now,” she said eyes still on the waiter wheeling softly into the kitchen, then raising her voice, “Like it matters. If you did care, if you listened ever. I mean, ever. Then you would know I hate these things.”

She fidgeted at the table, which buzzed and glowed slightly beneath their placemats in cracks and starts. It looked like it was almost floating. She didn’t like putting both her elbows on it.

“They…”

“They what? They grow their own burgers and generate this and that. Grow burgers. Its our anniversary and you want me to have burgers. Not even a re-steak. Christ, you can’t even do that for me can you Jack.”

Their waiter wheeled within the allotted safe space to the side of Lisa, carefully edging around the other tables and bowed graciously with a slow and slight reverse to Lisa, albeit with bit of a creak. It’s voice rattled the speakers just a little uncomfortably as it asked if there was anything it could do for them. It had sensed, or something else sensed something was not to current performance standards. She looked it up and down. It looked tired, if a machine could be. It was showing frays, seams on its velvet coverings exposing an age it could never enjoy or avoid.

“Culo. That’s all you had to do. Don't you even know me?" she whisper-shouted at him.

The waiter stood politely attentive at a comfortable distance gently blinking its eyes. “Thank you. We’re fine,” she told it.

There was a very long minute while the waiter made sure what it needed to do. It looked to its right at Jack who briefly glanced and then nodded dismissing it.

Culo was her favourite but this was supposed to be a surprise. She always said she loved surprises. What she really loved he thought was thinking she loved surprises. Jack looked around the restaurant. It got all the stars, the right reviews, the right backing, the menu was designed by Ole Magnusson and engineered by Aluma. Maybe it was something in the execution he thought. Maybe there was an update coming or something.

“Why didn’t you book Culo. I mean you know I love that place,” she asked.

He exhaled audibly through his nose.

Another waiter wheeled by silently, the rubber treads squishing over the uneven reclaimed, fibrous flooring, and brushed Lisa gently. “Sorry madam, sincerest apologies madam,” the waiter pronounced as it gently bowed by the wheels to her.

“Its okay, I mean, yeah,” she said annoyed.

“Our sincerest apology, we…”

“I said its fine,” she glared, “please…”

The robot erected itself and seemed to understand or compute the situation, then turned slight to the left and then to the right then slight left again before it whirred away.

“Listen honey, you know, I mean hey I tried. We always go to Culo.”

“We do, but it works. If there’s one thing I want on our anniversary is that something in our goddamn lives works.” She was staring at the plate, eyes driving up towards Paul, “like we were even late here and because of that fucking comfort response system. How long has it been?”

“I know, but…”

“But nothing Jack. Forget it. Its fine.”

Lisa looked around the restaurant, scanning for something to distract her. She thought about their first anniversary. Most places, well the regular ones they could afford way back when a person brought you food.

“It’s supposed to know what I want,” she added. She poked at the protein disc, lightly stippled in a predictable random pattern as it jiggled on its bread-ish based.

“What?”

“I don’t know, the restaurant, the robot, waiter, whatever, what do I know? Here, this place, isn’t this the new thing here? Isn’t it supposed to know what I want? Is this what it though I want?”

“Oh, yeah. You don’t like it,” he said.

“I mean its alright I guess,” she sighed, “not what I wanted really, but its okay.”

“What did you want?” he asked, giving up.

Lisa didn’t know what to think or what to say any more, to Paul, this waiter thing, whoever. They were both nice enough. But nice wasn’t enough that day.

My quantified life….I mean week and a half

Whether measuring sleep, flights of steps, various types of heart rate or “activity” whatever that might mean, all of this otherwise wasted data is right there for you dangling in the aether. You just need to pull it from the winds of your daily life, harness it, control it, and squeeze it into tools to power your life even more.

I’ve always been a sceptic of these things, but tracking has now become ubiquitous. Your phone does it. Now your watch with yet another screen does it. More and more people are joining the fray, hurling themselves into a better-managed life.

I got to talking with a friend who designs these sorts of things for a living about measuring heart rate. I have longstanding stomach issues. By issues I mean I’ve had food poisoning about ten times more often than most people, and the doctors have only half figured out why. But apparently, there’s this foggy notion of ‘inflammation’ in the body. You eat a bad thing, your become inflamed. This sounded right up my alley. I must be doing something – no matter how healthy I try to live – drastically wrong because I seem to be inflamed all the time. But this can allegedly be measured, like a tire gauge I imagined, by your heart rate.

So I strapped up and signed up with the Garmin Vivo 3 fitness tracker that among other things measures heart rate very accurately. I charged it. I connected it. I massaged its controls and stroked all the connections and adjustments all into place to begin my quantified life. It lasted a week and a half.

The first thing I noticed is that another device takes a lot of effort. It needed me to do things. It needed me to look at it, continually tap it, stroke it, charge it, feed and care for it like some twisted lifestyle blogger Tamagotchi for the worried well.

I was getting data though, specifically on my heart rate, and it was of course disappointingly inconclusive. It didn’t tell me shit as it were. I could not work out what was affecting what. There were no correlations, no graphs that matched up that pointed to the source.

I eat well one day, attempt this meditation thing and then lie down for a bit and get a 61. The following day I eat deliciously sugar-laden rubbish, endure an hour of misery being penned up in public transportation underground and get 66. One of my lowest heart rates was when I just had a curry while my kids were doing my head in. What are the scores even? How do I win? I soon realised, I can’t. There’s just too damn much, and most of it doesn’t connect, correlate or collect in a form that will ever make things better for me. What I’m left with is another thing that I need to manage.

It was there reminding me, sometimes three times along with my phone and computer all at once, that there’s so much more to do, so much more to quantify and that my inadequacy should be a nagging source of massive embarrassment. It begged me to tap it and view numbers at various times. It needed me so badly that it would start buzzing and pleading when it was away from the phone. It even had me whip my arm up in a very particular direction to tell the time. It was a relationship fit for daytime TV as it cajoled me into more and more worry that I wasn’t good enough and then gave me mixed signals in return.

Getting numbers about your regular, daily life is in some cases probably very useful, but only if you have the time to read loads of medical journals. I was going about things all wrong, mainly because I’m not a gastroenterologist in a controlled trial yet I was playing one. I don't need any more connection in my life and chances are you don’t either, yet we chain ourselves to systems and devices without any knowledge of what we’ll ever truly get out of them in the long run and any benefit beyond the novelty.